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WEEK EIGHT (part), Operations leading up to San Carlos Landings 17th-20th MAY 1982

Invincible-class aircraft carrier

on to 31. Argentine Aircraft successes


Summary of Main Events


HMS HERMES: No.809 - 4 Sea Harriers for No.800 NAS
1(F) Sqdn RAF - 6 Harrier GR.3's
[Wing Cmdr P T Squire (awarded DFC) AFC RAF]

No.809 - 4 Sea Harriers for No.801 NAS

? Invincible and Brilliant approached Argentine coast and special forces landed near air bases by No.846 Sea King (17th). By morning, ships back with CVBG. That evening, Sea King [b9] destroyed near Punta Arenas and crew later picked up by Chile (18th)
2. British aircraft lost east of Falklands - [b8] Sea King (17th)
3. British aircraft lost north east of Falklands - [b10] Sea King (19th)
4. APPROACH TO SAN CARLOS BY 3 COMMANDO BRIGADE (20th) - Assault ships Fearless, Intrepid; Transports Canberra, Europic Ferry, Norland; RFA's Fort Austin, Stromness; LSL's Sir Galahad, Sir Geraint, Sir Lancelot, Sir Percivale, Sir Tristram; Fr Brilliant, Broadsword, Argonaut, Plymouth, Yarmouth; DD Antrim, FR Ardent
5. CARRIER BATTLE GROUP (20th) - CV Hermes, Invincible; DD Glamorgan, Coventry, Glasgow; FR Alacrity, Arrow; RFA Olmeda, Regent, Resource, Tidepool; Transports Atlantic Conveyor, Elk

Plus submarine force, hospital ships in RCB, repair ship and tug in TRALA, and some tankers in TEZ

One of the strangest incidents of the war now took place involving Chile. The only certainty was that during the week the Chilean authorities found a burnt out Sea King HC.4 of No.846 NAS near the southern town of Punta Arenas, the crew of three gave themselves up and were returned to the UK to later receive gallantry awards for a number of hazardous missions. Presumably, and as announced by the Ministry of Defence, these included losing their way, ending up 500 miles from the Task Force and destroying their helicopter!! One possibility was that after a high speed dash to the west over Monday night (17th) by "Invincible" and escort "Brilliant", the Sea King landed special forces near air bases in Southern Argentina either to report on aircraft as they left to attack the Task Force or even in an attempt to destroy the Super Etendards (subsequently confirmed in the 1990's).

Whatever happened, the carrier obviously could not risk waiting for the helicopter to return and by Tuesday morning (18th) was back with the CVBG. The Sea King therefore made its way to neutral territory to be destroyed by the crew sometime over Tuesday night [b9]. Any men landed might then have been picked up later by submarine. As it happened, the diesel-engined and more manoeuvrable "Onyx" arrived in the Falkland's area by the end of the month and was reported to have lifted off special forces from near Rio Grande, and in doing so to have damaged herself on an uncharted rock. She also went on to land SBS teams around the Falklands to supplement the helicopter drops.

Back on Monday 17th as the amphibious ships neared the carrier group, the second No.826 Sea King from "Hermes" was lost by accident. Late that night to the east of the Falklands while on ASW patrol she hit the sea with altimeter trouble and had to be abandoned, but again fortunately with no casualties [b8]. Next day when within range, and through into Wednesday, "Atlantic Conveyor" flew off four of the embarked No.809 Sea Harriers to "Invincible" and the remaining four with the six RAF GR.3's to "Hermes". The 25 Sea Harriers would now concentrate on air defence and the RAF GR.3's on ground attack, but with a total of 31 now embarked, the carrier maintenance teams were sorely stretched and yet still provided a remarkably high level of availability.

When the many ships did meet some 200 miles to the north east of Stanley, equipment and stores, men and helicopters were re-distributed ready for the landings. Eleven assault Sea Kings of No.846 NAS were moved around to four of the ships that entered San Carlos Water, and on Wednesday evening a twelfth was lost with particularly tragic consequences. Before then, orders were received from Northwood to spread "Canberra's" major units around the other ships to avoid heavy loss of life in the event of her being hit. Through Wednesday 19th and in surprisingly calm weather for the South Atlantic in autumn, the larger landing craft (LCU's) carried by the assault ships transferred 40 Cdo RM to "Fearless", and Z Coy 45 Cdo and 3 Para to "Intrepid". The whole of 42 Cdo stayed on "Canberra", the rest of 45 Cdo on RFA "Stromness" and 2 Para on "Norland". The opportunity was also taken to transfer the special forces and three surviving night-flying No.846 Sea Kings from "Hermes" after their three week's covert operations. In one of the last flights that Wednesday from the carrier to "Intrepid", one of the Sea Kings loaded with SAS crashed into the sea and 21 out of the 30 men on board died [b10]. At the time a sea bird strike was thought to have brought her down, but this cause is now open to doubt. The dead included 18 men of D and G Sqdn SAS, some of them so soon after their Pebble Island triumph, one member of the Royal Signals, the only RAF casualty of the war and the aircrewman, Corporal M D Love RM who was awarded a posthumous DSM for his special forces missions.

Carrying Brigadier Thompson's troops, but commanded by Commodore Clapp, the Amphibious Task Group now headed for Falkland Sound. Leaving "Atlantic Conveyor" and "Elk" with the CVBG, it consisted of command ship "Fearless", "Intrepid", the five LSL's, merchantmen "Canberra", "Europic Ferry" and "Norland", RFA "Stromness" as a troopship and from the carrier group, "Fort Austin" for helicopter support. Apart from the original escort of "Antrim", "Ardent", "Argonaut" and "Plymouth", Admiral Woodward allocated "Yarmouth" and weakened his own defences by also sending "Brilliant" and "Broadsword". Faced with sailing across the north of the Falklands through the daylight hours of Thursday 20th, the type 22's Sea Wolf could have proved crucial in fighting off any determined aircraft attacks on the troopships. As it happened, the convoy was hidden all day by poor weather and reached the jumping off point for San Carlos Water without apparently being spotted. Later that Thursday, "Antrim" and "Ardent" went ahead on separate support missions and 3 Commmando Brigade prepared to land early next morning, starting with the first assault wave of 40 Cdo and 2 Para who went ashore at San Carlos.

So much took place in and around San Carlos Water over the next few days, Parts 33, 34 and 35 are needed to describe the main events:

Part 33: 21st May - San Carlos Landings
Part 34: 21st May - Air Battles around San Carlos
Part 35: 22nd-23rd May - Falkland Area Operations

But before then, Argentine and British aircraft and shipping losses inflicted and losses sustained are summarised as an introduction to the land, sea and air battles that took place until the end of the war:

Part 31: Argentine Aircraft and their Successes against British Ships
Part 32: British Successes against Argentine Aircraft and Ships

British Gallantry Awards included:

No.846 Sea King to Chile
Lt A R C Bennett (DSC) RN
Lt R Hutchings (DSC) RM
Ldg Aircrewman P B Imrie (DSM)

Captain G R Green RFA, commanding officer RFA Sir Tristram,
one of the LSL's sailing into San Carlos Water over the night of 20th May 1982
(Courtesy - RFA Service)


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